“If Christians were Christians, there would be no anti-Semitism.”
-John Haynes Holmes, The Sensible Man’s View of Religion
“Christ cannot possibly have been a Jew.” -Joseph Goebbels
One of the most painful and ultimately destructive features of the New Testament is its continuing portrayal of Jews as villains. Not some Jews, but simply, and repeatedly, “the Jews” or “the people.”
This is particularly striking in the readings for and beyond Holy Week. An example: “...the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19).
In many cases, there may have been misreadings of Gospel narratives. Some indiscriminate readers (and listeners) may have assumed that the entire Jewish populace, not just an angry mob whipped into hysteria by autocratic leaders, demanded Jesus’ crucifixion, but in other cases, including the sentence from John’s Gospel, the writing (or editing or translation) is at fault. The disciples were themselves Jews. They might have feared certain Jewish authorities or Roman soldiers, but it is unlikely that they would fear all of their fellow countrymen.
And consider this passage, a rationale for future atrocities: “Then answered all of the people, and said, ‘His blood be on us, and on our children!’” (Matthew 27:25) Who, with any ear for human speech, would believe (a) that all of the people cried the same, spontaneous words, or (b) that any single person would ever speak in quite that way? This is a line made for bad Passion plays.
Anti-Semitism didn’t originate within the Christian church–some of its roots are pre-Christian–but there can be no doubt that acts by certain Christians, or self-described Christians, from Torquemada to Luther, contributed to the growth of hostility toward Jews, of which the ultimate tragedy was the Holocaust.
So a modest suggestion, a first step: amend the Biblical readings surrounding the Crucifixion and its aftermath. I am not suggesting a change in any of the core beliefs, merely the rewording of certain dubious lines, which, while few, lead toward a negative picture of the Jewish people as a whole, and may corrupt children’s attitudes and perceptions.
Given that what was formerly the third collect for Good Friday (“Have mercy upon the Jews”) has been eliminated from recent publications of the Book of Common Prayer, and considering the plethora of Bible translations now available, the questioning of the legitimacy of many passages of scripture, and the variety of bizarre speculations regarding the life of Jesus, some of which once would have led to burning at the stake, this seems not a lot to ask.